Saturday, January 11, 2014

‘Allah’ row a non-issue, look at bigger picture, say experts

January 11, 2014

The Bible Society of Malaysia's office in Petaling Jaya was raided on January 2, sparking anger among Christians. – The Malaysian Insider pic, January 11, 2014. 
The Bible Society of Malaysia's office in Petaling Jaya was raided on January 2, sparking anger among Christians. – The Malaysian Insider pic, January 11, 2014.

A fatwa or edict issued by sultans is only applicable to Muslims and, therefore, cannot be enforced against those of other faiths, says constitutional law expert Dr Aziz Bari.

Speaking at a forum entitled "Allah issue and seizure of Bibles: Between the law and religious sensitivities", organised by PAS last night, Aziz questioned the timing of the Selangor Islamic Religious Department’s (Jais) raid on the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) last week.

Saying that the Selangor Non-Muslim Religions (Control of Propagation among Muslims) Enactment 1988 had been in force for 25 years, Aziz asked: "Why choose to enforce it now? Everyone is waiting for the Federal Court to decide on the ‘Allah’ ruling.

"Isn't it a better and wiser decision to let the issue cool down instead of turning up the heat? Or is this a calculated and deliberate act?"

Aziz also questioned the reason police had accompanied the Jais team when they raided the BSM office in Damansara Kim on January 2.

"This is a selective operation, similar to the allegations made against PAS deputy president Mohamad Sabu that he was a Shia follower.”

He said although Muslims made up the majority of the Malaysian population, they appeared to be portrayed as being under threat.

"What sort of logic is this? This never happened several decades ago when Muslims had yet to become the majority in the country," he added.

Picking up the same thread, PAS Parit Buntar MP Datuk Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa told the forum that 1.7 million Christian worshipers in the country could not make Malaysia a Christian country.

"There are only 1.7 million Christians in Malaysia while 55% of the 28 million population are Muslims," Mujahid said.

"If Christians are so capable of turning Malaysia into a Christian country, then I must learn this secret from them," he said, prompting laughter from some 200 people at the forum held at the Kuala Lumpur-Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall.

The third speaker, National Evangelical Christian Fellowship secretary-general Eugene Yapp, said Christians did not want to fight with anyone or to take anything away from others.

"We just want to be left alone and in peace to practise our religion.

"We use the word ‘Allah’ because historically, it predates Islam. The English version of the Bible is actually a translation.

"The original scriptures were not in English but in Hebrew and Greek. Hence, when it was brought to Malaysia, God was translated as ‘Allah’," Yapp said.

He pointed out that the Anglican Church in Sarawak went back to the 19th century.

"These traditions, including referring to God as ‘Allah’, have been passed down from generation to generation, from father to son."

He said he once asked a Bumiputera Christian if he could stop referring to God as "Allah".

The man replied: “Imagine if you have been alive for 40 years and one day, your hands or legs are cut, how would you feel?

"How can you suddenly tell me that whatever I have been practising in my faith is irrelevant? Who are you to tell me this?"

Yapp said Christians in Malaysia were angry and disturbed over the “Allah” issue, including the Jais raid.

Aziz concurred, saying it was a Muslim's duty to protect his friends when they were being persecuted and oppressed.

"There have been accusations in Selangor that certain Muslim individuals are helping and defending Christians. This is the duty of a Muslim.

"The rights of Christians are not being respected and a negative image of Malaysia is being portrayed on the world stage.

"Islam is being seen as oppressing the rights of other religions," he said, adding the “Allah” issue was a minor one.

"Why won’t the government focus on the big picture, on corruption? Cost of living? Price hikes?"

Aziz drew more laughter when he joked that "extremists" such as PAS were organising these forums while Umno was lodging police reports and holding protests outside churches.

Mujahid said Muslims had to live in reality.

"The Quran teaches us about reality. What right do I have to tell Christians what they can or cannot believe about their faith?

"The opposite applies as well. Can a Christian come and tell Muslims what they can or cannot do when practising Islam?

"I have entered a church. Does this mean I am no longer a Muslim but a Christian now?" Mujahid asked, drawing laughter from the floor.

"You can laugh about it, I can laugh about it, but some parties do not treat it as a laughing matter."  – January 11, 2014.

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